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March 16, 2006

Best Practices #2: Snohomish County Democrats

Democrats in Snohomish County get really excited about what they are doing as a Party.  The desire to share their successes and the enthusiasm that arises from those successes is much of what propelled the State Chair candidacy of Mark Hintz, Chair of the Snohomish County Democrats.  In covering the State Chair race, I encountered this unusual excitement about the way the party works there and made a note to find out what they are doing right that the rest of us could learn from. 

I recently talked with Mark and then checked in with a few other folks who have been part of the renewal of the party in Snohomish County, including Dave Somers, newly reelected to the Snohomish County Council.  If I had to sum up what I learned, I’d say they run like a team-oriented business, the model that in my many years of organizational development work, I found generates the most participation and fosters the most bottom up innovation and successful results. 

The different people and teams who focus on the various aspects of building the party in Snohomish County hum along with encouragement from Mark and each other.  Each person I talked with used the word “empowered”.  They are systematic in how they raise money and intend to use that money strategically.  They are building a great website that they believe will encourage community and provide each of their different committee chairs with a place to do their own organizing.  They involve the elected officials and expect them to participate fully in the life of the county party.  They take principled stands and have a Democratic message that resonates both with their members and with the community they are serving.

Mark did not get traction as a candidate for State Chair in January, partly because of his insistence that this development of the party was a team effort and partly because it just seems so normal to him, the way all organizations should work. 

If only.  There are few other Democratic organizations anywhere that do work that smoothly, that generate that much excitement, that are inclusive and welcoming, that are innovative and focused on being effective and, perhaps most importantly, that make people enjoy the nuts and bolts of building the party. 

Actually, as someone who worked as an organizational development consultant and trainer, I think there are few organizations anywhere that generate that buzz of excitement.  It’s just that generally the Democratic organizations are so much worse than most that those of us who’ve worked in the average organization wind up wanting to tear our hair out in frustration when we try to work with the Democratic Party, no matter how much we want to elect Democrats to office and see progressive policies governing this country.

So it’s worth understanding what it is that makes this organization work so well.

Leadership and Empowering People

Bill Phillips, former Chair of the 21st LD and candidate for State Chair in 2005, is a big fan of Mark Hintz’s.  He says that Hintz is raising more money in Snohomish County than anyone thought possible.  He is very clear about what he wants and works with people to help them learn to do the grassroots work.  He gets people to work together and commands trust and respect.

Mark says that the most important thing is to have an open, transparent process rather than operating with just a few people in what we used to call a smoke-filled back room.  He wants to include as many people and groups as possible to accomplish common goals. 

He says he tries to empower the people who want to make the change and lists the many people on the party Executive Board and what they are doing.  He talks with them to find out what’s important to them and then tries to guide where he can.  He does pretty much what he does in the mortgage banking business he runs.  “I try to be a teacher,” he says.  “I taught high school for five years. Talking, educating people is just how I go about doing these things.” 

One of his great challenges has been incorporating the Dean folks who came in during the 2004 campaign, just as it is across the state and across the country.  He says they came in with a great deal of energy but were pretty convinced that all the old establishment party people didn’t know how to run a race or a party.  Mark has put a great deal of time and thought into pulling these folks in and making use of that energy.  He says some of these people dropped by the wayside because it didn’t change in the way they wanted.  Those who stayed are very solid and have been incorporated into the team. 

Mark says he looks for people to be involved, people from all over the county and all different groups of people.  It takes all these different people to make this work.  He sees his job as coordinating, not doing the hard work.  Of course, if doesn’t hurt that he shows up for meetings all over the county and that he obviously cares about what people are doing.   

Money-Raising Process

Mark says that he felt that one of the things that would be important would be to have funds to contribute to the candidates.  In the past the state party has done that but not the LD’s or the counties.  Candidates ask for endorsements from the party.  Mark decided it was important to be able to contribute financially to candidates as well.  He knew that Dave Somers’ had been using a professional fundraiser in his campaign for Snohomish County Council last fall and thought that Snohomish County could use similar help as well. 

Paying a pro to help raise money is not part of Democratic Party DNA and it took a while to bring his Board around.  Now the county has a systematic plan to raise money this year.  Mark makes regular direct solicitations.  The Board and county elected Democrats are also part of the plan, as are folks in the party down to the PCO level and online donations. There are tools for tracking that will be online.  As a result the county has more and more money coming in on a consistent, on-going basis. 

Mark has not been hesitant to break the mold in other ways to raise money and the county party’s profile.  Under his influence, the Snohomish County added a gala as a fundraiser, in addition to the more traditional summer picnic.  He also paid to upgrade the booth used at the Evergreen State Fair.  The county had had an old wooden monstrosity of a booth that took 6-7 people to put together.  Mark’s experience in business told him that there were more modern, lighter booths that would be easier to use, more flexible and more impressive.


Michelle Pin, corresponding secretary for the county party and one of the people who came in as part of the Dean campaign, is passionate about communications.  She has been instrumental in developing the county party website.  She likes that the website makes the party “flatter” and more accessible to newcomers and provides a space for the committee chairs to have their own sections and address party people directly.   

She appreciates the way Mark enables her and others to make things happen without being domineering.  Michelle joined the party 2 years ago and wound up being the volunteer coordinator.  She found a party woefully unprepared for the 2004 campaign.  In the January 2005 party reorganization, Mark asked her to run as corresponding secretary on his ticket as he ran for party chair. 


Michelle is much happier with the county party these days.  She says Mark focuses on the finances and the campaigns.  She says her hero, Rebecca Wolfe, from the 32nd LD, is county platform chair and has chosen to focus on supporting three key issues:

  • Vote by mail
  • The gas tax
  • The Growth Management Act

The party has been successful on the first two issues and is still working on the third.

Mark’s Philosophy

Mark says that he regularly asks himself the same five questions that former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill used to say that there were 5 things that he asked about the laws he was asked to consider.  Does it 1) provide for a living wage?  2) provide a roof over people’s heads? 3) enable people to eat properly (such as breakfast programs for school children)? 4) allow people to have appropriate medical care? or 5) provide for the education of our children and/or help people to attend college?

Mark says those are the things that he sees as being core beliefs for us as Democrats.  It’s hard to argue with his values and harder still to argue with his successes. 

Posted by Lynn Allen on March 16, 2006 at 01:22 PM in Best Practices | Permalink


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